Fri 30th Sept – The Origin of Fairness – John Little

In his book of this title, Nicolas Baumard explores the theory that morality was originally an adaptation to the biological market of cooperation, an arena in which individuals competed to be selected as partners. In this environment, Baumard suggests, the best strategy was to treat others with impartiality and to share the costs and benefits of cooperation in a fair way, so that those who offered less than others were left out of cooperation while those who offered more were exploited. It is with this evolutionary approach that Baumard ultimately accounts for the specific structure of human morality. The resulting “contract ” analogy is claimed to capture the pattern of our moral intuitions.

On the other hand, the analogy provides a mere ‘as-if’ explanation for human morality -it is “as if ” people have made a contract- but since they haven’t, why should this be so? To evolutionary thinkers, the puzzle of the missing contract is immediately reminiscent of the puzzle of the missing “designer ” of life-forms, a puzzle that Darwin’s theory of natural selection essentially resolved.

Michael Tomasello’s  ‘A Natural History of Human Morality’ offers the most detailed account to date of the evolution of human moral psychology. Based on extensive experimental data comparing great apes and human children,  he reconstructs how early humans gradually became an ultra-cooperative and, eventually, a moral species.

There were two key evolutionary steps, each founded on a new way that individuals could act together as a plural agent “we”. The first step occurred as ecological challenges forced early humans to forage together collaboratively or die. The second step occurred as human populations grew and human groups began to compete. Distinct cultural groups emerged that demanded from members loyalty and conformity, and individuals developed a strong cultural identity.

As a result of this two-stage process, contemporary humans possess both a second-personal morality for face-to-face engagement with individuals and a group-minded “objective” morality forged by the moral community as a whole.

Fri 23rd Sept – What is Money? – Ned Pegler

This Friday, on 23 September 2016 from 7.40pm at the Friends Meeting House, Ned Pegler will be speaking on What is Money?  Ned says:

Money has polarised opinion amongst economists over the last two hundred years. Currently the money that we use is effectively IOU’s issued by governments (Fiat money). Such a system depends on trust in governments of course. However, some free-market economists argue that currency should be exchangeable with precious commodities at a standard rate (Managed money), so that no government can play fast and loose with it. There are also new ideas of how money could be altogether different, such as cryptocurrency, based both on trust and a commodity standard.

All of these forms of money have potential up and down sides, as pointed out by their supporters and critics. They also have their own ‘creation myths’, involving free trade, support of armies and legal settlement of disputes

By taking a historical and even pre-historical view of the development of the ‘social technology’ called money I want to suggest that money has changed in its role over thousands of years from initial insurance experiments by the first farmers of the Middle East, through its use as a commodity standard to its gradual evolution into a government issued, increasingly credit-based system.

I also want to make the case that, through history and across the world, different kinds of money have tended to exist at different scales and for different uses. However, the nature of globalisation and perhaps a touch of Gresham’s Law has inevitably left us with a bunch of trust-based currencies that I hope won’t fail us because going back to something else would be a side effect of something much worse.

Fri 16 Sept – Political Wisdom – Paul Archer

The new philosophy season begins this Friday on 16 September 2016 from 7.40pm at the Friends Meeting House with Paul Archer speaking on Political Wisdom.  Paul says:
It is tempting to say that we can bypass political ideology and just do evidence-based economic and social policy relying on a broad consensus about promoting well-being.  I want to consider the various reasons why this might be wrong and why we might need ideology in the form of political traditions and visions.  I then want reflect upon the distinct ideologies of socialism, liberalism, and conservatism and argue that this threefold characterisation is much more helpful than a left/right distinction.  Finally,I want to think about whether we can find wisdom in each political tradition and whether we are allowed to want equality and freedom and belonging.